Opening hole proves pivotal to Europe's Ryder Cup victory... will U.S. follow suit at Bethpage Black?
3 Min Read
Written by Alistair Cameron @PGATOUR
Arguably one of the most analyzed Ryder Cups was almost too close to predict before a ball was hit last Friday morning at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club. Odds stacked favorably toward the U.S. Team had plummeted to almost even, with some predicting a European victory. The Europeans were fresh with young up-and-comers mixed with an experienced core. A stronger-than-ever U.S. Team was looking for a victory on European soil for the first time in 30 years but ultimately came up short on Sunday to overturn a hefty deficit after a poor showing early on in the competition.
Partly, this was due to the opening hole at Marco Simone – a tight dogleg-left par 4, playing 407 yards up hills. Fairway bunkers guard the right side of the narrow landing area, and the thick rough seen across the golf course was brought in closer on the left side of the hole, per European Captain Luke Donald’s wishes. It was a move that seemed to play into the hands of the European side.
Rory McIlroy of Team Europe tees off on the first hole during the Sunday Singles matches of the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, Rome, Italy. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The coliseum-like first tee saw the European side hit the slender fairway 22 out of 36 times during the Ryder Cup, whereas the Americans found the short grass just 16 times -- an impressive advantage after just one tee shot.
“The Americans all slice it,” Rory McIlroy cheerfully joked when asked about the first hole in the post-tournament press conference.
Maybe not the in-depth analysis that anyone was hoping for, but the advantage was still clear to see. With danger right, a narrower target and set up for a right-to-left ball flight, Marco Simone’s brute of an opening hole was exactly what the Europeans needed.
Over the course of the week, the Europeans won the first hole 10 times compared to the U.S., who won it just four times. In fact, the Americas hadn’t led in a match heading to the second tee until Saturday afternoon's Four-ball session. They hadn't even put red on the board up until that point. Ten times, the boisterous home crowd could start the match with cries of “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole,” and settle any nerves that their golfers could be experiencing, opposite to the U.S. who were playing catch-up out of the gate.
Prior to the Ryder Cup, Donald spoke about the gains he’d been looking for with his vice captain, Eduardo Molinari, known for his analytical approach to the game.
“This game is all about finding those incrementals,” Donald said. “You add those all up and hopefully it results in a trophy for Europe.”
It seems that the opening hole at Marco Simone contributed greatly to the 16.5-11.5 victory.
In two years, the biennial event will head to New York, where a scenic Bethpage Black Course will take center stage with leaves changing color and crisp fall mornings: the polar opposite to what we just experienced in the Mediterranean. And the golf course setup will likely be contrasting to Marco Simone, especially the first hole. A dogleg right – a reverse of from last week – may suit the majority of the United States’ stars.
The PGA of America also plans for a new forward tee box for 2025 so that the first tee and 18th green can be encompassed by a signature grandstand fitting for the Ryder Cup. Not only will this be a spectacle for both players and fans, but also the new tee box shortens the difficult first hole on the Black Course. Could this play into the hands of the U.S. short wedge approach play?
With more than 700 days till the next time the U.S. and Europe battle, it still seems too early to call, but it appears that the preparation is already fully underway to create marginal gains for the opening act at the next Ryder Cup.
Alistair is a senior staff member at the PGA TOUR. Born and raised in England, he played golf professionally on the European Alps Tour before joining the PGA TOUR. Follow Alistair Cameron on Twitter.